It has bothered me for sometime that I do a bad job of keeping in touch with all these great people that I’ve known through the years who I love and would definitely spend time with if we were in the same city, but that’s just not the case. I miss hearing their thoughts, and having people from all sorts of fields to debate with. My new experiment is a weekly (more-or-less) email newsletter, in which I select 5 articles, just 5, that I found interesting that week, and then I send it out to a list of friends with some thoughts or questions on each. I invite folks to respond (Or unsubscribe, as the case may be!). I’ve sent out 3 newsletters at this point, and am quite encouraged by the responses, so I’m going to keep at it. You can find an archive of the digests here, if you’re interested, definitely sign-up for the email!
I enjoy hearing from people, and hypothesize that a reasonably regular email is a low-stress/low-load way for people to stay connected in a more content-ful way. I shall report on the experiment periodically.
All the ORANGE really gives you pause, doesn’t it? At least it did when I first saw the results. I’m just imagining little cholesterol molecules floating in my bloodstream. I have elevated levels of LDL (Bad) in conjunction with high levels of HDLs (good).
Last week, I visited WellnessFX, a San Francisco based startup focused on giving consumers more information about their health through performing regular diagnostics on blood draws, setting you up with a phone consult to review your results, and the ability to track your progress online. It covers cardiac, metabolic, liver, kidney, electrolytes, bone, blood, vitamin and mineral levels. As a not terribly old person (yet!) with what I thought to be non-horrible habits (don’t smoke, or eat beef, no soda or fast food), I was horrified by my lipid panel results. During my phone consult, we talked through interventions to make to improve my results. No genius prizes here -
- Reduce carb intake (but I love rice and noodles!)
- Pick chicken (over duck, or pork! – less saturated fats to reduce the “bad”cholesterol in my diet”
- Work out more
- Add a daily multi-vitamin (results showed slightly low levels of Vitamin D, and East Asians are prone to osteoporosis, so better get on it!)
I’ve been thinking about imagination a lot recently, prompted by my return to the startup world, and reflecting on what I missed most while away. There was a great post by Francisco Dao* in PandoDaily on how essential imagination is to the success of Silicon Valley, and more broadly the tech startup ecosystem.
“I have no doubt that this “culture of possibility,” strangely driven by the illusion of imagination, is the secret sauce that makes Silicon Valley what it is. For those who live outside of Northern California (including myself), I use the term “Silicon Valley” not as a geographical description but in the context of a shared belief system, one that embraces imagination and ignores the probabilities of failure.
Don’t get me wrong – logic has a place, businesses do need to eventually generate cash flow, but nothing would ever get started if we imposed the logic of today on the businesses and product of tomorrow.
It is not surprising to me that young people are drawn to the tech scene, or that most of the most innovative companies are started by young people – we’ve had less time to have so-called “reality” beaten into us. But also because technology is largely a meritocratic market – no one cares how old you are or what you look like if your stuff works. This is becoming even more so as the cost of learning to code decrease to free, outside your time. (If you haven’t seen them yet, check out Udacity, or Coursera). The costs of setting testing an idea, collaborating across geographies, and setting up a company continue to decrease.
The only hurdle that remains is your ability to imagine a different reality, a better way of doing things and the wherewithal to see it through – that’s where delusion is helpful, or a supportive environment of like-minded people who want to help, or at least won’t laugh you out the door when you propose a new way of doing things.
I’m glad to be back in startup land and will attempt to post more regular commentary on my re-integration – this time on the operating side, and in a new geography.
*I will discuss at some later date the fact that his exclusive tech network is called 50kings rather than queens or some non-gendered royalty since the dearth of women in technology hasn’t been discussed to death
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
- Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), Stanford Commencement Address (2005)
Sarah and I attended ENTER’s event this evening at Harvard College. Hosted by Bilal Zuberi of General Catalyst Partners, there was a great panel of players in the Boston community. Brent Hurley, WaiKit Lau and Joe Chung shared war stories from Paypal, YouTube, ScanScout and ATG while Murat Bicer from Battery Ventures added venture color.
Participants ranged from freshmen who had just taken their first CS class at Harvard, to recent grads Ho Tuan and Nicholas Krasney (Harvard, ’09) who were launching a cable service on campus. (If you’re at Harvard, check out their beta.)
Having “grown up” in Silicon Valley, I often take for granted the idea that startups are a valid and natural path out of undergrad. This is definitely not the case at Harvard. Despite the play that entrepreneurship gets in the media nowadays, from President Obama’s Startup America initiative (which oddly sounds like some sort of political action committee) to the stardom of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the world of entrepreneurship and startups is largely opaque to the general public. It conjures up the notion of two unwashed guys in a garage somewhere, eating ramen and coding their eyeballs out. Hardly an attractive picture when compared to the glossy brochures of McKinsey and Goldman Sachs!
While the garage startup still exists, much of the entrepreneurship community I interact with is made up of people who are simply passionate about solving a certain problem they’ve identified. They seek guidance on how best to build their solution, how to find a co-founder, when to approach institutional financing and even just to commiserate with fellow startup junkies to share the joys and despairs of running your own show. Shout out to some of my favorite entrepreneurs: Check out Katrina Lake on the intersection of fashion and the internet, Elizabeth Yin on validating markets without coding, Eric Bahn on anything related to GMATs or business school.
Gatherings like the one last night are a small but essential part of building a vibrant, thriving community and ecosystem.
HBS folks – Startup Tribe is meeting tonight in the game room of the Grille.
Yesterday in my supply chains class, we had a guest who said in the starkest terms I’ve heard at HBS:
“Don’t just think about earning top dollar -if you live a life of service to your communities, and do what you’re passionate about, the money will come.”
And he paraphrased Luke 12:48 “For those whom much is given, much is expected”, and told us that we had an obligation to those who were not as fortunate as we were, to give back.
In an environment where we discuss efficiency, and corporate accountability in the context of not getting arrested, it was refreshing to hear a CEO of a small, family-owned business articulate the values which governed his life.
It raises interesting questions for how one should live a life of service, even if not directly engaged in a social mission. We can’t all be Paul Farmer, or Wendy Kopp, but I have to believe that we can pursue our career aspirations while being engaged and contributing community members. We can make the places we inhabit better for us being there, beyond our immediate self-enrichment and nuclear families. We can think about the things we didn’t earn in our lives, that just happened to us, and be humbled in that knowledge.
Watched two videos today that I thought would be worth sharing.
In the first, author Chimamanda Adichie highlights the dangers of a single story. How the story of Africa that the Western world tells itself is one of poverty, endless war, and HIV-Aids. (like Singapore = chewing gum ban, extreme cleanliness, and caning that American kid)
She touches on the role of power in deciding how stories are told -
“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power…stories too are defined by the principle of nkali (power) . How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”
In the second video, Jon Stewart addresses a crowd of ~200,000 at the Rally to Restore Sanity, and though he doesn’t blame the tellers of the stories for the underlying problems the US faces, he urges the listeners to reject the notion of a single story. Adichie could have been channeling Stewart (or vice versa)
“We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.
Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals. Most Americans live their lives that our just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often it’s something they do not want to do, but they do it. Impossible things get done every day that are only made possible by the little, reasonable compromises.”
“to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience, and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. “
So here’s to working on listening better and more thoughtfully for the stories people tell about themselves and their businesses.
“When we eat together, when we set out to do so deliberately, life is better, no matter what your circumstances.”
– Thomas Keller-
Idea: There are collections of people you don’t know very well, but think are interesting. You think they could be particularly interesting at a dinner party. You invite them, and ask them to invite another person (under the same arms length criteria), and that invitee in turn gets to invite one more person.
Expected outcomes: Probably largely dependent on the first invitee and the extent to which they embrace the spirit of the exercise. Could be a total disaster given large potential variance, but I’m optimistic that it will be a lot of fun. And when in doubt, just add wine and everything will be better =).
Will update with results.
“FLOW is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.“
It is the intersection of high skill level and high challenge level.
We all know the feeling of being in the flow – athletes call it the zone, sometimes we experience it at work, in a presentation, in class, where you are just ON.
Why is this important? Because recruiting season is starting (yes, in the first full week of school, there was already a recruiting networking event for 2nd year MBA students) and this is a time fraught with anxiety, much frenetic rushing about as we try to figure out what to do after leaving the warm cocoon of HBS.
We stop thinking about being in the Flow, and start worrying about landing an interview, getting a job, thinking about LIFE with a capital “L”.
Now I know there are two, maybe more schools of thought about work – live to work or work to live, and I’m probably much more in the former camp – I want to like what I’m doing, and who I’m working with. That doesn’t seem like a big insight – but I think it’s taken a number of jobs and lots of conversations to figure out what kinds of work/challenges make me excited, keep me engaged, and encourage me to give my best everyday. I enjoy being surrounded by people who love what they’re doing – who aren’t just showing up to collect a paycheck, and who are passionate about the things they do everyday.
There is a lot of temptation to put off the things you love, to be sensible and do the right, safe thing – after all, we’ve been taught to assess the risks and rewards of our decisions, but often, we look too narrowly at compensation and fail to value the psychic rewards of being truly engaged and energized by our work. We did a case on Lehman’s research department in the 1990s, where analysts stayed at Lehman, were paid less than the competition (GS, ML) and outperformed them on II rankings. They called it the “Rivkin discount”, what people were willing to take to work for Jack Rivkin and be part of the team. He managed to build a team that was able to deliver results while having fun, even within a traditional stodgy firm like Lehman. Perhaps there are two messages – people are ok being paid less if you give them more than just money. If all you offer is money, you’d better be offering more than the competition.
This brings us to AMP – Daniel Pink’s work on what intrinsically motivates people: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Autonomy: People want to have control over their work.
Mastery: People want to get better at what they do.
Purpose: People want to be part of something that is bigger than they are.
When you take these three things away from people, you better have a hell of a lot of extrinsic/monetary compensation/fear to drive performance. Recipe for unhappy employees – Remove choice, don’t give them feedback, and make the work they do seem utterly meaningless. This is what people gripe about when they talk about “the Man”, “being a cog/suit/number”. Sound familiar?
So as I sign up for info sessions and coffee chats, I have to keep asking myself if these potential employers are going to offer me the chance to be in the FLOW, to exercise autonomy, to provide constructive feedback, and most importantly, the chance to believe in the enterprise and what we are trying to accomplish together.
I see many of these characteristics in startups, which are autonomous by default since there’s always too much work for anyone to really have time to supervise you, and where if you don’t master what you’re doing, you will be killed by the market, and where there is a built in purpose as you’re part of a team that’s trying to survive.
I’m curious about how to retain this sense of shared purpose as organizations scale and mature. I know there must be large companies who have accomplished this. Anyone know of companies that have done this particularly well over a sustained period of time?